Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sweepstakes, Breadsticks, and The Gift

I've never won a drawing, though I've entered my name and address many times. I've hoped they'd call to announce that I won their Jeep! But the only call I got was to sell me their product.

In all fairness, I know that my likelihood of winning anything in a drawing is one in hundreds, even thousands. Of course, it's unlikely I'll get their gift!

My own gift giving was mildly derailed this Christmas. I was going to make several batches of sesame sticks and give them to acquaintances. But making those little breadsticks took more time than I remembered. So, I decided I would only give them to a few people.

In contrast, Jesus' offer of eternal life is not restricted to a few lucky persons whose names the Father pulled out of a sweepstakes bin. I’m glad. In fact, I'm thrilled that Jesus offers me ... and anyone else who will receive ... His best gift.

Jesus' best gift, a relationship with Himself, is exquisitely beyond great cars or homemade breadsticks. While it is costly -- far more than a Jeep or an all expense paid trip to Acapulco -- there are no ulterior motives or limits on the offer.

God offers me personal forgiveness and Christ's transforming presence. With Him, I also get joy and peace. Lavish, and from limitless resources, the Gift comes from Father, Son and Holy Spirit to whomever wants to receive.

My heart jumps at the thought.
"Me. Me. Pick me."

I only have to admit that I need what He offers. That I can do -- easily.

Thank you, Lord for giving me your costly Gift. I want to enjoy and examine Your generous presence every day.

No Jeep or breadstick can touch that!

For Your Consideration:

“Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” Romans 8:32 NLT
Do you ever think you have to reach some standard to daily benefit from God’s Gift?
Jesus’ gift is costly but free to you. Will you make time to enjoy His presence in the busyness of this season?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pray a Difference

Second Corinthians 1:3-11 focuses on experiencing the God of all comfort and letting His comfort overflow onto others.

But it was this short sentence in the second paragraph that invited me to sit awhile. “You help by your prayers” (2 Corinthians 1:11a, NIV).

My prayers, and yours, really do make a difference! When we (or others) are being stretched beyond our normal limits, we have an opportunity to pray a difference.

Paul says, “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9, NIV). Often we don’t like to rely on God ... or anyone else. We want to be tough. But being in hot water has a way of creating a desperate longing for God. After all, God resurrects life, even when it seems to be over.

Amazingly, hidden under suffering, we find gifts that reveal God’s heart. We find goodness and unfailing mercy. Faithfulness becomes precious. God’s promises secure a lifeline to sanity, and His presence soothes us more than a hot cup of tea on a cold day.

Thankfully, God not only has power and purpose in raising the dead, but God intervenes in situations that seem inconsequential in comparison, like getting the cookies baked in the time slot we planned. We need to ask. We need to pray a difference.

Perhaps our prayer will bring comfort to a grieving friend, or bring breakthrough to a desperate coworker. Perhaps prayer will bring us peace in the escalated demands of the season.

Though we may not clearly see the results of our prayers, Paul says we do make a difference through them!

May these words steep in our hearts like tea leaves in hot water. “Then many will give thanks … for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11, NIV).

Let us pray a difference this season.

For Your Consideration:

How can you pray for a leader or other person who may be experiencing pressure that causes them to despair?

As you look more closely, what gifts has suffering revealed?

Do you give God thanks for other pray-ers?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Will Show You

“The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country … and go to the land I will show you.’” Genesis 12:1 (NIV)

My friend, Joy, called me one night. She told me a story that jolted my delusions.

I had ably convinced myself that I didn’t need to write. It was a silly fantasy after all. God knew I wasn’t a writer. I’m really much better speaking with people. Writing is for gifted introverts. Maybe writing was just a red herring to sidetrack me from developing my speaking ministry.

That’s when Joy called and shared an encouraging story a friend told in her prayer group.

Some of her missionary friends were praying, when they got the distinct impression that they were to load the car with Bibles. Then they were to take the Bibles to a place that God would show them.

It reminded me of Abraham. “Go to a place I’ll show you.”

They didn’t balk. They packed their little car and prayerfully headed off, alert for promised directions.

Proselytizing was punishable in that country. They couldn’t see the outcome, and they didn’t have the details, but they were obedient.

While driving through a village a man stepped out into the road, causing them to stop and roll down their window. Their adrenalin spiked.

“Did you bring the books?”
“What books?”
“The books we were told you were bringing!”

The man told them that several in the village had the same dream, and they were expecting these books to give them answers to the questions they were asking!

He volunteered to pay for them, but they declined. It was a gift, sent by Someone greater.

Now here were people who were willing to put their lives on the line to obey God. And here I was giving God excuses for not doing something God seemed to have directed.

If I decide to obey the little I know, God will give me the next set of directions.

I’ll look for them.

For Your Consideration:

Is God calling you to step out in faith? What do you need to obey?
What “reason” do you give for disobedience?
Will you choose to ask God’s wisdom to help you obey?
Other Scriptures: Luke 6:46, 1 Samuel 15:21-23

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Withered Grass

Aunt Kay left for heaven on Thursday night. She went peacefully, but after months of waning health. She was ready and willing to go. One last breath ushered in the unseen.

Ninety long years left in that last breath. Like scorched grass, her frail body was left in a hospice bed, while her spirit slipped unseen to a rich eternal life. Christ’s presence was there. Immanuel (her favorite name for Christ) was with us. As she left for eternity, we thanked God for receiving her, even as we grieved. (See Psalm 90.)

Another day, One agonized for us, His breath excruciating, till he gave up His Spirit. “It is finished.”

That same Jesus Christ, now risen, comforts us in our grief. Because He was obedient to death (Philippians 2:8), He opens the doorway to eternal life.

Watching Aunt Kay cross that threshold reminded me that Jesus redeems our suffering. When Jesus, with the Father's love, said yes to the cross, He opened our prison doors. When she said yes to Jesus’ love, she started becoming free. Thursday, when she left for Home, she was fully freed (John 14:1-6).

Eventually, we will box her belongings and sort though photographs and trinkets that were special to her. These photos of unknown people and places have little value to us: faded memories on faded paper. I keep remembering the old adage: “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

I am very thoughtful these days, thinking of the withered grass image Psalm 90:5 uses. What’s the value in all her beautiful belongings? They too will be gone one day. I will too.

In Psalm 90:12 Moses prays:

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

It’s a good prayer.

For Your Consideration:

How can the light of eternity give you a fresh perspective?

What do your time and money say about your real values?

Will you take time for God’s love to satisfy and fill you with joy?
(See Psalm 90:14)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sarcasm or Sustenance?

The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
Isa 50:4, NIV

Caustic by nature, I could burn with my words and, from my teen years, found myself praying over my heart and my speech. Under pressure I often failed to move beyond this natural inclination and, while I knew the explosions were unproductive, among my family I was not able to control them. They harmed the very people I most loved!

I would memorize Scriptures like, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3, NIV) and Psalm 19:14, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

But, despite my best efforts and prayers, I struggled with disappointment and failure. For me, it took more than memorization and recyled requests.

During Bible study one day, God used Ephesians 4:31 to poke a finger in my chest and gently inform me that I was to get rid of my “rage.”

I’d never thought of those outbursts as rage. Anger, yes: rage, no. That was too harsh.

That day, I got down on my knees, convicted by the Holy Spirit, and asked God to forgive me for “rage” that seemed to batter me. That divinely revealed label and my contrite response seemed to cut off the ill wind that sometimes blasted my precious children’s faces. God kindly revealed this word of truth, and I agreed with the diagnosis.

The Holy Spirit started sensitizing my heart to the underlying causes, and helped me release to Christ’s nail-pierced hands each frustration and hurtful childhood memory.

Many moons later and heart more whole, I pray with a different emphasis. While sarcasm is mainly a thing of the past, I still want my words to be pleasing to God. Now, I carefully listen for the Word's instruction. I lean on the strength and sustenance of His morning presence. Through the day, I check in frequently for God's voice. No need to resort to fruitless ways of speaking. God's soothing voice sustains.

For your consideration:

Might God be putting a finger on a displeasing habit of speech? What label would you use? What label might God use?

Are you willing to stay still with Ephesians 4:20-32 and listen for God’s insights?

Are you ready to comply with the Spirit’s diagnosis, and listen for Christ’s sustaining word to you?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Grace Waits

I had to prepare a five minute speech for critique, so I prayed about the scripture, and finally settled on Isaiah 30:18. “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you…”

On one of my preparation days, I went to my Promise Box with its weathered cards. I pulled one out, breathing a prayer for the Lord to speak to me. Isaiah 30:15 looked back at me: “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” I breathed out, smiling, for this preceded the verse I had chosen. It seemed the Lord was saying, ‘Yes. You’re on the right track.’ He is gracious.

Usually, preparing to use Scripture in people’s lives is life giving to me, but this short speech was stressing me out! It was for critique. Not really for life change. Or so I thought.

Back to the study, verse 18 read, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (NIV).

I thought of Queen Elizabeth extending her hand to a dignitary. She would not rise from her throne to extend her hand to someone unimportant. In contrast, our gracious God rises from the highest throne, longing to show us mercy, waiting to be gracious.

I finally gave my little speech at the She Speaks Conference. I was nervous, but knew this grace focus was God’s gift for me.

The last day of the conference, after the closing address, each attendee was given an opportunity to go to the cross and select a card with a verse on it. Six hundred women streamed up to two stations where cards were scattered at the base. Tears, scribbled notes, hugs, meditation, and prayer were all unfolding. Grace was pouring all throughout the room.

I finally walked up asking God to put my hand on the card He had for me. The high gloss paper slipped, but I knew I was not to select another. On the way back to my table I read, “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’”

I wanted to laugh out loud. I did, but with restraint. Oh thank you, Lord! How gracious! How kind to press that promise into my heart one more time. You’ll give me strength if I’ll just trust You. You’ll overcome weakness if I’ll rest in You.

If only we wait on Him, Grace waits.

For Your Consideration

Do you have something perturbing that you need to bring into God’s Presence? Something you need to let go?

Can you imagine God waiting on you? How do you best wait on Him in hard times?

Observe the blessings of trusting God in Isaiah 30. Can you apply any of these to your life right now?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fresh Lemons Make Good Lemonade

Last night, I got on line to listen to John Barbar, a senior financial executive whose weekly podcast reaches out to motivate toward effectiveness. His podcast is chock-full of practical suggestions for positive, prinicipled networking that produces results. The presentation encouraged me to actually write down my plan to develop my network for opportunities to do more women’s retreats and inspirational speaking.

John is one casualty of the current ill health of our economy. When he got fresh lemons, he decided to make good lemonade.

Some months after his job was no longer available, he shared with me that he was praying Psalm 71:14 “But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” I took note. There was no bitterness in his voice. No self-pity. He was thanking God and counting his blessings.

In this down time, he has persistently networked, planted good seed, helped others, and honored his Lord. In fact, through the apparent downturn, he’s now living his dream to start his own business (www.barbarfinancial.com) and encourage others in the business world and beyond. His podcasts came out of a vision to influence others to also live passionately, and being without a job afforded, even prompted, him to jump in with both feet.

I am truly delighted to watch his influence grow over the net, and to learn of opportunities that are opening for him as he walks with integrity. That integrity, he’ll be quick to say, is from his relationship to his Friend and CEO, Jesus Christ. I don’t know if he’d use those words, but I think he’d agree with the concept.

If you or a loved one is in jeopardy of a job layoff or termination because of the economy, I would urge you to go to his podcasts and take a listen. Last night’s was a great help to me. The link is http://xiosoftpresenter.com/?eventid=7687164. You can access his archives if you contact him at jgbarbar@gmail.com.

Instead of being a “casualty,” John has become a crusader of what will lift others above their current circumstances. He has developed a refreshing recipe of lemonade.

For Your Consideration

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Can you identify some of your recent lemons? Are they rotting, or are you squeezing out the good stuff?

What are you learning from your trying time? Can you see God bringing good out of the situation?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Risen Indeed!

“He’s risen indeed!” we joyfully would reply to our Mother’s energetic “Christ is risen!”on Easter morning. Years later, we still use the same greeting every Easter Sunday.

A greeting like no other, it rings clear joy.

When our children were young, we arranged baskets with pastel papered chocolates, candy, and a stuffed toy for them to find when they awoke. Between the baskets we placed a standing cross made from twigs tied together. It was a keeper from a table decoration at church, and I hoped it made a visual link to the real meaning behind the gifts.

Chocolate bunnies, hidden eggs, new shoes, and special family gatherings all helped make Easter special. But the joyful reality of Christ’s resurrection in my life first came as I observed my mother live like she personally knew this risen Jesus. I watched her listen for His voice in the Bible, heard her pray, and saw how, despite being a single mom, she constantly helped others. As they say, learning to trust Jesus is often “caught not taught,” and I too learned to love my Savior and Friend.

It is not mere tradition that I celebrate. When one tough hard boiled egg wins the egg war, or children's eyes sparkle with discoveries, the joy I feel has deeper roots. When I sing triumphantly “Up from the grave He arose,” or hear a young teen’s solo about a life touched by the risen Christ, the reality of the resurrection resonates deep within. I nod gratefully. Yes. My Savior is alive. I am proof.

Our grown children called this morning. “Christ is risen!” they declared. We vigorously responded, “He is risen indeed!”

For Your Consideration

What engages your heart on Resurrection Sunday?

How does Christ make a difference in your life regardless of your circumstances?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

And Then Some

I recently attended the American Christian Writers Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Doc Hensley, Chip MacGregor, and Linda Wade were excellent, their instructions settling deep. I absorbed more from this conference than others because I had been practicing the little I knew. Now I find myself on a new step and have a better view of the landscape. Nevertheless I know I have a tall ladder to climb before I can comfortably call myself a writer.

So like life, isn’t it? Whatever craft you are learning, you have to start on the bottom rung. If you look too high and measure yourself by the stars, you might as well slip down the ladder. But… if you look up, appreciate their accomplishments, THEN look back at what it takes to step up to the next rung, it can spur you to practice new skills to excel. I have to remind myself: don’t give up!

When I was a consultant with Mary Kay Cosmetics, I learned this motivational saying: “A big gun is just a little gun that keeps on shooting.” Another gem that spurred me to excel in sales was the fact that most people give up just before they have a breakthrough. The phrase was “and then some.” If you were willing to make new sales calls “and then some,” if you served your customer “and then some,” you chose to function a notch above most others. So if I practice writing, submit articles, keep my own deadlines “and then some,” I will be able to develop this fledgling gift to God’s glory.

Can my currently underdeveloped writing glorify God? Most certainly … if I stretch for excellence and my heart is taken with the Most High, not my product. If my focus is on the living Word who creates and sustains, if my desire is to write, speak, and live to His glory, He promises me I’ll have those desires! You will too.

For Consideration

“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart”(Psalm 37:4 NIV).

Are you working on a new goal? How can you focus on excellence while keeping your underdeveloped performance in God’s perspective?

Meditate on Hebrews 12:1-3

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Delighted by Red on Gray


Teaching is a wonderful way for me to learn.

To teach effectively, I have to absorb the material until it weaves itself into my fabric. Consequently, teaching “Spiritual Disciplines” at our District’s Lay Speaker’s Academy has required that I dust off some classic disciplines and that has afforded me several delightful encounters with God’s Spirit.

Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton (IVP, 2006) came to me highly recommended, and I wholeheartedly pass on the recommendation. Ms Barton is vulnerable, insightful, and practical, while sharing her treasures and welcoming you to find your own sacred rhythms.

The format for this particular course allows 3 hour sessions on 3 consecutive Sundays, so the challenge is to teach while incorporating time to savor God’s presence through some of the disciplines. Just teaching and practicing any one discipline could easily take an hour, but because of time constraints, I walk a tightrope of highlighting content then choosing an exercise or two for the students to experience. This past week we focused on discovering our “Breath Prayers,”and self-examination.

While referencing Psalm 139, I was making a point how we, finite creatures, encounter God’s grandeur. I shared how God often uses nature to reveal Himself to me. “Look outside,” I gestured.

Beyond the window and glass door a swollen, brown river hurried by and a nearby tree stood naked against the gray sky … until a cardinal’s red silhouette suddenly painted the dark trunk.

I was stunned. The timing of my eye meeting that cardinal’s brief perch, while making a point about encountering God, opened another window for the whole class to experience God. In that small room, twenty-three of us were privy to God’s fresh communication as I explained how God has often used cardinals on bleak days to remind me of the Holy Spirit’s vibrancy.

Our Creator punctuates the mundane with delightful surprises. When our attentiveness meets the beauty of God, a vibrant red bird on a gray day can remind us of the Holy Spirit’s revelations, bringing the hush of God to attentive hearts!

Scripture: Psalm 139

For Your Consideration

How can you develop an attentive heart?

Where do you sense the Holy Spirit at work in your life?

What, in your experience, registers God's love for you?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Praying for the Reader

Most High God, Creator, Immortal One...

Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings, Lovely Savior, God with us...

Would you please engage us where we may feel alone, tired, or discouraged?

Emmanuel, refresh us by revealing to us the glorious Light of your presence.

Whisper in our ears the Living Word that we need. Please help us place our ears by your mouth. Let your speech be heard in our quiet places, and give us wisdom to know what to do about it all.

May we see your glory and rejoice that you are the God who neither leaves us nor withholds what we need.

We choose to praise you Lord, and we anticipate your faithful revelations for our good and for your awesome glory.

Through Jesus Christ, the Lamb who links us with your holy presence...

May it be.

Revelation 5:12-14; Revelation 19:16; Hebrews 13:5-6; Isaiah 50:4; 1 Peter 1:22-25; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Psalm 19; Psalm 23; Psalm 91: 14-16.

Bringing Distractions to the Light

It is luxury to be able to spend solitary time with God. My devotional times are usually rich...that is, if I am really present. If I am persistently distracted, I do well to present the distractions to the Lord for our mutual scrutiny.

I want the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart to please my heavenly Father, my Redesigner. So attending to hovering preoccupations, instead of batting them away, positions me to acknowledge lurking worries or hopeful dreams and release them to the Lord.

Since I want to please God and to live a healthy, holy life, I prepare myself for hearing God's instructions. I get quiet with the Holy Spirit, invite His discernment, and cover my mind and spirit with the armor of God. And, oh, how I need Wisdom's input. As I present myself, I repeatedly experience my Lord Jesus Christ, who is good at loving me well and gently revealing hidden things so they can be bathed with His Light and Life.

Choosing to be vulnerable with the living Christ, who understands all my struggles, opens doors to His transforming Light. Trusting God to accept and attend to these concerns is like giving the house keys to the Master Craftsman for His rennovation.

I am never disappointed in God's final work. After all, I get to trade ashes for a crown of beauty, and can anticipate discouragement will be transformed into a life of praise!

Eph 6:10-20
Ps 19:14
Isaiah 61:1-3

For Your Consideration:

Do you have any distraction or nagging thought that you need to share with Jesus?

How might working together with the living Christ for healthy change become more viable?

What transformations of grace might you celebrate?

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Morning Star"

A brilliant star followed us home tonight. Perhaps the lone bright light was the north star. I didn't know for sure. I gawked through the car window with renewed delight in God's sky.

Was it a star like this one that took the eastern stargazers to the Christ child? Years of observation, study, and curiosity prepared them to recognize God's sign so they could discover a miracle. How exquisite was God's timing in bringing these camel riders across rough terrain to worship a king!

Nature's distinct whispers reveal God's character. But God does not usually use dramatic sightings like unusual stars or Red Sea crossings to guide me. I might find erruptions of the Lord's grace and guidance in a quiet reading of the Scriptures, the grin of a child, the perseverance of a coworker, encouraging words of a friend, or an answered prayer. But whenever I follow the rays of God's love, I find a brilliant star shining. A star that doesn't merely follow me, but guides me home.

And in the "Morning Star's" presence, I, too, worship the King.

"I, Jesus, sent my Angel to testify to these things for the churches. I'm the Root and Branch of David, the Bright Morning Star" (Revelation 22:16, The Message).

For your Consideration:

How does God draw your attention toward enjoying His majesty and love?

Can you find or write a worship song to express your delight to our wonderful King?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Morning Prayer

Heaven’s Breath

In this crisp new morning, Lord,
Let me inhale your goodness.
Synchronize my heartbeat with yours.

You long for me
To turn toward your breath
and deeply inhale.
To see your signs and wonders
calling out to be noticed and enjoyed.
To recognize your glory
In the quiet snow;
Accept forgiveness,
Take today’s opportunity for a fresh start.

In paths of righteousness
I’ll walk,
Renewed by heaven’s breath.


When you breathe stale air, how can you open a window or venture outside?
What choices are available to you today?

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Imagining someone’s eyes jump with new light as God’s Spirit removes curtains that keep us from seeing. This gives me reason to blog, unfamiliar territory for me.

My passion is to see people find exquisite care from their loving Creator. My heart sings when I see the deep realization register on faces, seeping beyond mind to spirit, bringing assurance of God’s love and care for them personally. This Jesus thing is not a hoax, but a very real encounter with a living, holy Personality who wants to do us good.

As a Christ-follower, I marvel at the supernatural changes in my life that have come with experiencing Christ’s presence and love. My spiritual growth and transformation have often come through exploring places I had not initially desired, and while I’d been taught a high regard for God’s Word expressed in the Holy Bible, I had not always made my heart available. Nor did I know how.

So, I invite you to sojourn with me through this new venture. My prayer is that while the Lord continues to transform me, God will use this to encourage you to pursue your transformation into the image of Christ. Perhaps, together, we will discover new rooms of God’s grace, enjoy the furnishings, and invite others to this heart opening pilgrimage.

Because of grace…